Most Australians have too much salt. In 2013 the Australian government signed up to the Global Salt Reduction targets, set by the World Health Organisation, to reduce our mean salt intake by 30% by 2025 (WHO,2016). It is well known that high intakes of salt increase our risk of heart disease and stroke. However, salt does have a purpose in the body, including controlling blood pressure and volume and helping the brain and nerves send electrical impulses. The NHMRC advises that Australian adults should aim to consume no more than one teaspoon (4 grams) of salt a day in order to prevent chronic disease (NHMRC, 2005). Most of the salt in our diet can be attributed to processed foods, where it is ‘hidden’ under many different aliases including sodium chloride, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and additives, such as sodium sorbate. But what about salt added at the table? This is just as detrimental to our health as salt in processed foods, but does it matter which type of salt you add? Let’s take a look at the breakdown of different salts:
Himalayan Pink Salt
Most of the world’s salt is harvested from salt mines, or by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich waters. Himalayan Pink Salt is mined from the world’s second largest salt mine in Pakistan (not the Himalayas!). The salt does not undergo the same extensive processing as table salt meaning the trace minerals have not been removed. The reason it is pink is due to trace amounts of iron oxide (rust) present in the salt. In addition to containing high amounts of sodium chloride it is purported that this salt contains 84 minerals in total – the main others being potassium, calcium and magnesium. These extra minerals are only present in extremely small amounts and there are plenty of other food sources that can provide these minerals in the necessary amount. While it is a nice addition to the meal from an aesthetic view, it shouldn’t be added in order to provide a health benefit.
Sea salt varies from other salts as it is produced from the evaporation of sea water rather than underground salt deposits, like table salt. There is less processing involved in the production of sea salt, compared to table salt, meaning there are some trace minerals left behind. As with Himalayan Salt, these minerals are not in a volume that would be significant enough to impact on health. Sea salt also contains the same amount of sodium by weight as table salt, making it no better than regular table salt.
This is pretty much the same as sea salt from a nutrition perspective, with the only difference being that rock salt comes from underground salt mines rather than evaporation of water.
Iodised Table Salt
This is your basic; plain, old table salt. This salt is refined rock salt and most of the trace minerals have been removed. Table salt is almost pure sodium chloride. It contains anti-caking agents so that the salt can pour freely rather than clump together. A successful public health campaign, to prevent iodine deficiency and ultimately birth defects, was the addition of iodine to table salt. This occurred as there are very few food sources that contain iodine. Seafood is the only food naturally containing any significant amounts of iodine and dairy (due to processing) and bread both have iodine added.
So, what does this mean for us at home? At the end of the day, the healthiest option is to avoid adding salt at the table and choosing other options to add flavour to a dish. Good alternatives include lemon, garlic, ginger, herbs and spices. The level of processing does not impact on how ‘healthy’ a salt is when all the different varieties contain roughly the same amount of sodium chloride. The trace minerals present in the different types of salt can be better obtained through having a well-balanced, fresh food diet. At the end of the day, a grain of salt isn’t really worth much!
- National Health and Medical Research Council (2005). Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Available: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/n35.pdf
- World Health Organisation (2016). Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health – Population Sodium Reduction Targets. Available: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/reducingsalt/en/
Guest contributions by APD Shannon Morley